Archive for the ‘Those PSD Teams’ Category

Those PSD Teams – Sept 2006 (2)

November 14, 2009

Boss Tom has climbed up a ladder to the roof of the train station, following the contractor and two of his employees. It’s about 120F in the shade, 130F in the sun, and 140F in body armor. I don’t feel like climbing two stories up a rickety ladder to walk around on a concrete tile roof in the sun. I must be getting old …  

I wait in the yard below. My South African PSD guard stands as close as my shadow, bumping my elbow. The small station enclosure is quiet and still. Two contractor workers lean against a shady wall twenty meters from us, watching. I smile at them.

“How many years, missus?” one of them calls out.

I don’t understand what he’s said through his thick accent, so I give him a quizzical look and shrug.

“How rude!” my guard mutters. He must have understood what the man said …

“How many years?” the Iraqi man repeats, smiling and waving to me.

“He’s asking how old you are,” my guard says in a voice that betrays surprised outrage. “That’s rude! He can’t ask our women how old they are!”

Indifferent to the cultural rule that is insulting my guard, and ignoring the quaint if bizarre phrase our women, I grin at the Iraqi. “Forty six!” I call out to him.

I can practically feel the surprise pass through the body of my guard. Out of the corner of my eye I see him staring at me and sense it’s the number that’s surprised him more than the fact that I answered the question at all.

The Iraqi worker starts walking toward us, his friend trailing along. “Twenty six?” he asks me, sounding confused. “You, twenty-six,” he says more firmly.

I laugh and shake my head. He bends down and writes “26” in the dirt in front of me. He looks up at me with his eyebrows raised in a question.

I bend down to wipe the “2” away with one finger, replacing it with a “4.”

The Iraqi and his friend stare at me in utter surprise for a moment, then their faces break into wide smiles. They give me an enthusiastic thumbs up, nodding and grinning with approval.

I laugh, catching my guard’s eye. He’s grinning and nodding as well. He gives me another thumbs-up.

I’m secretly hoping he’ll give his teammate Max a heads-up. Max has been politely hitting on me. He’s twenty-four years old!

Every woman is a ten in Iraq. I guess it’s fun while it lasts …



Those PSD Teams – June ’07

November 7, 2009

At this point I’d been moved north to HQ. I was still working the endless, ludicrous Alamo Road project, but now with PSD teams who had never been to the project. Accustomed to my teams down south, and having chalked up the incident with Pete as an anamoly (see Those PSD Teams – May ’07 post), I assumed all PSD teams were flexible, friendly, good-natured, helpful, and quietly, defensively (i.e. not aggressively) professional. I didn’t fully appreciate how easy it was to work with them until I had to travel with these new HQ Erinys teams …

June 2007

HQ’s PSD teams* are at least as irritating as the Alamo project itself. Driving down Alamo yesterday, I asked the men for a UTM grid on the location of a pothole because my own GPS unit was fritzing.

I’m busy watching the environment, the man snapped, truly pissed off. I don’t have time to give you grids.

The stupidity of this stopped me cold. I laughed out loud.

Let’s see … the environment he was watching: sand, and one long asphalt road. Visibility: five to fifty kilometers. The sheikhs in the area have been paid off by the contractor. We’ve been visiting the site weekly for over two years, and daily for six months without a hint or sniff of any trouble, but he can’t take his eyes off the sand for forty seconds to read a UTM grid? Self-important piece of junk.

We continued on down the road in silence. When we reached the contractor’s little fortified outpost camp, I climbed out of the truck and started for the office trailer to chat with the only white man left on the project, Joost, the contractor’s security man.

One of the PSD men stopped me. How long will this take? He asked curtly.

I shrugged. As long as it takes, I told him and turned on my heel and walked away, his next question trailing after me without a response.

After half an hour chatting with Joost, one of the PSD men opened the door and stuck his head in the office. “We have to leave now,” he said.

I’m not finished, I told him, then ignored him, turning back to Joost. I heard the door close.

What’s with this team? Joost said with a scowl. They’re getting paid. Joost, a big bear of a South African, has worked as a personal security guard himself for many years. I shrugged and rolled my eyes. I told him what they’d said when I’d asked for a UTM grid out on the road.

I think perhaps there are too many Americans on this team, Joost said. Perhaps they are short American men. He grinned at me and I grinned back.

The door opened again. How much longer? The same man asked.

Twenty minutes, I told him without turning around, keeping my voice mild.

Forty minutes later I strolled out the door. The team members’ eyes were flat and blank as I walked past them on the way to the truck, and I imagine my own looked the same. We were all doing a poor job of pretending we weren’t pissed off.

Two of the project engineers came out of another trailer, Hassan and Fahd. I waved and veered off my path to greet them. I heard the PSD men muttering to each other behind me.

The engineers looked nervous, shifting on their feet, eyes flickering carefully over the armed PSD men behind me. I caught Hassan’s eye and rolled my own, making a face. He grinned. As I reached the engineers I held out my hand and Fahd took it with a grin, both of us then bringing our palms to our hearts to signify respect and affection. I stood and chatted with the engineers for five or ten minutes, ignoring the PSD men now openly glaring at me, only occasionally tearing their eyes off of me to stare at the Iraqis with scorn and suspicion. Self-important pieces of junk.

One of my teams from down south came up here to HQ today, so I asked Conor what he thinks of the HQ teams. Maybe I just hit them on a bad day …

Seren, Conor said lowering his voice and looking around to be sure we wouldn’t be overheard, I was transferred up here last spring. After one week I called the bosses and told them that they can move me back down south or I’d quit.

I told him what had happened at Alamo Road.

They’re a bunch of morons, he snapped. They don’t do their homework – they could call us to get intel on Alamo.

They’ve never asked you guys what’s up down there? I asked, incredulous. You guys have been going there for two years!

Conor shook his head. They take themselves way too seriously, proving that they’re not anywhere near so good at what they do as they think they are. He made a scornful face. They like to push people around. You know how many times they’ve shot their weapons?

I shook my head.

They’ve gotten into trouble. He waved a hand in front of his face like he could wave away a fetid stench. You know us, Seren, he said. How many times have we shot our weapons? How many times have we had to?

Never, I said nodding.

If they were any good, they would be relaxed enough to be flexible and they’d have more fun doing the job. Be careful going out with them.

So I didn’t just draw them on a bad day.

He told me the names of a couple of good individuals on the teams. I’ll talk to them, Seren, Conor told me. I’ll tell them to take good care of you.

I miss my PSD teams.  



* We had two companies on contract providing personal security teams for us: Aegis and Erinys. The Erinys team down south was great. It was the Erinys teams at HQ that were so obnoxious and aggressive; Aegis security teams were great, down south and at HQ. Like the Erinys team down south, they were always mature, courteous, highly competent, and wonderfully professional.


Those PSD Teams – May 2007

November 7, 2009

Today is the first time that I’ve traveled with an Erinys PSD team based out of Headquarters. Comparing them to our own teams down south, I am not impressed.


Good morning … my name is Pete and your driver today is Leo. We’re traveling today in a three vehicle convoy, all of them white Land Cruisers. Should we run into any trouble today, you’ll hear us shout Down! Down! Down! Immediately get below the level of the glass. Should our vehicle be hit we’ll roll through the contact area. The other vehicles will pull up in such a way as to create a triangle of protection – a ring of steel, if you will. Stay inside the vehicle with the doors closed. Wait for one of us to come get you to cross-deck you to another vehicle: don’t fight us, let us move you – we won’t be gentle. If it’s not a white man trying to grab you, do your best not to go with him. If one of the other vehicles should be immobilized, be ready for a few large white men [wearing and carrying an extra 70+ pounds worth of armaments and ammunition] to come hurtling onto your lap. Josh is the team medic and he’ll be riding in the lead vehicle. Each vehicle has a trauma med kit: ours is stashed here (point). We’re traveling with a transponder (point); if our vehicle should become disabled, push the red button. That will alert the comms center that we’ve been hit. Cold drinks are in the cooler; sweets here (point) if anyone feels the need. Any questions? Right. Helmet on, safety glasses on, gloves on at all times. Ready? Right, let’s roll.

Two clear.

Having heard this at least a hundred times, I often tune out the brief while I mess with helmet, gloves, camera or project files. If I listen it’s only to find out where the med kit is stashed, and to more accurately mimic the Brit accents later when Crowsie and I are clowning around.

This time the HQ PSD team leader, Pete, caught my attention as he finished the brief because as he added, pointing at me, And no screaming. It’s very distracting.

The two men in the back seat laughed. I smiled politely, covering my surprise and irritation at this unusual example of sexist crap. I pointed at the men behind me. They’re more likely to scream than I am, I told the man. My colleagues cheerfully agreed, adding that if anything happened, they planned on pulling me on top of them for protection.

We proceeded to the arming station, an area near the outer Brit gate where the PSD teams and military load and clear weapons. While we waited there for the gun truck to catch up, I climbed out of the truck for a smoke with Drew, one of our own teams’ crew members who happened to be waiting there for the rest of his team, heading out on a different mission.

Pete wandered over to join us. So I guess you don’t get out much, he said as he lit my cigarette.

I laughed at his persistence. No, I said, successfully keeping my voice neutral, not much at all. Only three or four times a week.

Really, Pete said in a voice that made it clear he doubted the numbers.

Drew raised one eyebrow at me. Hey mate, he said to Pete, laughing, she gets more bang bang than you’ve seen. She was meeting with eight Iraqis while someone shot it up in the streets in Az Zubair yesterday. She’s on the road as much as we are.

I was, in fact, meeting with eight Iraqis while someone shot it up in the streets of Az Zubair yesterday, a useful bit to use in silencing patronizing HQ PSD men while having offered not a bit of danger to myself. The first shot went off just as I had just stepped out onto the roof of a health clinic. Though the shot sounded like it was at least a few blocks away, my guard politely tugged me backward through the doorway, just in case. Later, meeting with the contractors in a room downstairs in the same health center, a more sustained back and forth exchange of gunfire went off, lasting fifteen or twenty seconds. The construction managers and I ignored it, continuing our discussions. I stayed another half an hour to conclude business, and left without incident. The shooting was likely a celebration – a wedding, a new baby, a funeral.

Pete looked blankly at me for a moment while Drew’s deceptively mild words sunk in. He shot a quick, cautious look back at Drew who was glaring at him, then wisely withdrew to the other side of the truck.

What the hell was that? Drew asked me.

Same old crap, different man, I told him with a shrug. Thanks.

Well, he muttered, still irritated, we put an end to that patronizing twitter.

We flapped a hand at each other and walked back to our respective wagons.

The HQ PSD teams complain that their clients treat them like shit …. I can’t imagine why.

It’s kind of nice to have an armed personal guard like Drew watching my back in more ways than one. Just think of all the useful applications of a good PSD man back in the Real World … no more panhandlers harassing me on the streets; no more self-absorbed assholes bugging me in bars; no more smiling politely to defuse those stray insults.


[I still miss my Basrah PSD teams … 2009]


Those PSD Teams – December ’06

November 7, 2009

With no provocation at all, Taz mooned Anna Lee and me just before he disappeared out the office door tonight. Though a rare glimpse of a male body shorn of clothing is rare enough here to be (more than) welcome entertainment, the moon was a disappointment for Anna Lee. She keeps hoping for a good look at his shrapnel scars, not his bum.

It may look as if there’s a good body under this clothing, Taz tells her, but believe me, there isn’t! It’s nothing you want to make yourself sick over.

I’d like to be the judge of that, she mutters to me, wagging her eyebrows.

The youngest man on one of our PSD teams, Taz is a nutty Brit kid with a mobile face and a laugh for everything. He was hit with an IED earlier this year and still carries some shrapnel in his back, a fact that he uses judiciously to good advantage. When the shrapnel set off airport security scans during a recent visit to the States, he coyly admitted to having been hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq and was escorted to his gate, then immediately (and repeatedly) upgraded to first class on flights. He mentioned the shrapnel in Vegas, earning comped rooms and a few hundred dollars in chips. He claims to have been swarmed by beautiful women in an Arkansas bar, all clamoring for his attention, convincing him — and with this face! he squeaks incredulously — that he’s a very handsome chap.

Each evening this week Taz has entertained us with stories of amusing adventures. Last night he topped them all with an hour of detailed, X-rated tales relating mishaps with sex toys that he and his girlfriend tested while he was on leave last month.

Well it’s dull at home after the first week, isn’t it, he concluded when we were already sick and dizzy from laughter. I hadn’t meant to leave her hanging upside down so long – I was just laughing too hard to be of any use to her!

(We know the feeling … )


Those PSD Teams – October ’06

November 7, 2009

Drew throws himself down in the chair next to me and twitches distractedly, his body making tiny leaps off the seat, his hands randomly touching things on the table, looking for something to do.

I had to shoot a dog today, Seren, he tells me in a quiet, confidential voice. He sounds scandalized by the memory. I feel terrible …

I make a sympathetic noise and grimace. We both love dogs.

He was staggering in circles, Drew explains, rubbing a hand hard through his thick hair as if he can get on inside his skull to erase the memory. Something was wrong with him. He did it for five minutes. He couldn’t stop

It’s best then, I assure him.

But I keep thinking … Drew says twitching around in the chair again and looking everywhere but at me. What if he just had an itch! What if he was just trying to scratch himself or something, and I shot him!

Did the others see the dog? I ask.

Drew blows out his breath in one explosive burst. They think I’m a girl! They saw it – we all talked about it. The dog was sick!

Then it’s good that you shot it, I assure him again. It’s out of its misery, yes?

Drew leans forward to look into my eyes. But what if it was just scratching itself, Seren!


Drew was one of my favorite PSD men, a Brit with a bit of court jester in him somehow … he’d pop his head out a window or over a Hesco barrier as abruptly as a jack-in-the-box, startling me every time with his sparkling grin. Clever, highly competent, and normally confident, he would occasionally torture himself by second guessing his decisions. Since he wasn’t shy about verbalizing his doubts, he was then secondarily and mercilessly tortured with teasing from the rest of the team. He could take it and dish it right back with wit and humor, though, a trait most of the Brits had and that I fell in love with.

More than once Drew came to me to voice his doubts about a choice of action he’d taken, this being the most memorable and touching to me for the depth to which he was disturbed by his decision …